Fe Focus Editor's comment

9th April 2004 at 01:00
News and comment columns in The TES have been overflowing of late with criticisms of Connexions, the youth advice and guidance body, for failing to provide a universal service.

It seems the well-heeled middle classes are simply not getting their fair share of careers support services.

The result of this parlous neglect is that Connexions has exceeded all expectations and cut by 10 per cent the number of 16 to 18-year-olds who drop out of education and work with training.

Shame on them. Where are their priorities? That is not what people voted New Labour for. They will feel betrayed, surely. If the service is universal then it should meet the needs of all.

Such arguments might have weight if we really did have a world-class careers service that met middle-class needs before Connexions was created.

But that is in the realm of rose-tinted spectacles. Before Connexions, the big whinge was that the middle classes too often ignored the careers service.

Connexions is between a rock and a hard place. Imagine the outcry if - in trying to meet everyone's needs - it had missed its target to cut drop-out rates. Middle England would soon be griping about the growing tax burden from the fight against anti-social behaviour.

The hard place for Connexions to reach is the island of complacency where able and accomplished middle-class children live before jetting down the fast track to university and tuition fee debts. As a 13-19 service, it has to provide the wherewithal for all young people to think critically about what is the best pathway to their individual success.

Connexions is barely three years old. The full national roll-out of the service did not happen until last April. It is still young, battling to create 47 locally-targeted services while meeting national exigencies and government targets.

The signal success of cutting post-16 drop-out rates, as revealed in the National Audit Office report this week, has to be celebrated. Now comes the hard part: continuing with that trend while building the "universal" service it is charged with creating.

This will be all the harder given the greater financial constraints such services will be facing over the next three years. This will mean even tougher decisions and priorities. So far, the NAO report suggests that Connexions is getting it right.

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